One month after his destruction of Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic has another chance tonight to stake his claim as the main challenger to Rafael Nadal's supremacy at the top of the men's game.
Djokovic, the world No 3, will be attempting to claim his third successive title here at the Dubai Duty Free Championships, while Federer, the world No 2, will be aiming to win the tournament for a fifth time.
The final line-up that organisers must have been hoping for came after sharply contrasting semi-finals. Djokovic, who gave an erratic performance in the heat of the day, was leading Tomas Berdych 6-7, 6-2, 4-2 when his Czech opponent retired with a thigh injury.
Federer, who has played in the cool of the evening all week, rarely looked in difficulty during a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Richard Gasquet. Djokovic has played his last three matches during the day, which could be to Federer's advantage in this evening's final.
Although Federer beat Djokovic three times in the autumn and leads their head-to-head record 13-7, he has lost to the 23-year-old Serb in the semi-finals of the last two Grand Slam tournaments. Djokovic went on to lose to Nadal after winning a five-set thriller in New York, while his magnificent straight-sets win in Melbourne paved the way for his victory over Andy Murray in the final of the Australian Open.
Djokovic has now won his last 13 matches in a row – his last defeat was against Federer in London in November at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals – although he described his performance against Berdych as his worst of the year. The Serb lost the tie-break 7-5 after a succession of sloppy errors and might have been in difficulty had Berdych not been increasingly troubled by the injury to his left thigh.
Federer took command from the start against Gasquet, breaking his serve in the opening game. Even when the Frenchman took a 5-3 lead in the second set Federer looked unruffled. Gasquet, who had started to hit some magnificent backhands, won only four more points as Federer upped his game to close out the match.
Unlike Djokovic, the Swiss was happy with his display, as he has been with his form over the past six months. "I've played really well and been very consistent," he said. "I have another opportunity to win a tournament, so it's a good moment for me."